By Anita Doberman: Columnist
The last few days of life for a person with a terminal condition are challenging both for the patient and for family members. During my grandmother, Nonna Dela’s, last days on this earth, her children, including my own mother, were in a state of complete upheaval.
Emotions were raw and took over without warning: at different times, Nonna Dela’s five adult children experienced anger, denial, despair and eventually acceptance.
My mother told me that one of the most difficult things for her, were the unexpected moments when a sea of emotions and sadness would sweep over her. Saying goodbye to a loved one, in my mom’s case to her own mother, is difficult and provokes unexpected reactions and confusion.
There isn’t a one-fits-all answer to these difficulties: it’s hard to know how we’ll react to the death of a loved one because we find our own individual answers and ways to cope as it happens.
While we can’t predict how we will handle this situation, there are resources that can guide us and offer support during this difficult time. Hospice is one of them. It‘s available to everyone and provided by Medicare and Medicaid and most insurance companies. More importantly, most hospices will not turn anyone down but provide for people who don’t qualify through insurance plans of any kind.
Hospice care is available at home, hospitals and hospice care facilities. The hospice team is comprised of physicians, nurses, social workers chaplains and volunteers, who work together with the family and the patient to manage pain, show compassion and respect.
Hospice neither hastens nor delays death, but it makes it possible for patients and families to receive support and understanding of the medical, physical, emotional and spiritual issues surrounding end of life, often for up to a year after the death has occurred.
I have volunteered at hospices in the past, and was impressed with their services and with the bond they created with families. I experienced this bond personally when Nonna Dela’s children called hospice to assist with home care. The team of doctors and nurses was fabulous; they explained to my family everything that was happening physically and emotionally. They were there to administer medication and give some respite to my mom, aunts and uncles, and they assured them that all that Nonna Dela and they were feeling was normal — helping them navigate through the confusion of these last few days. They explained in detail the natural processes that occur during death and respected my family’s religious beliefs and traditions — honoring the way we decided to acknowledge this passage.
It’s tough to talk, write or just entertain the concept of our loved one’s mortality — let alone our own. The pain of someone’s departure cannot be eased by any doctor or nurse — really by no one; but the dignity and compassion we can find through hospice is an invaluable gift.
After my grandmother passed away the family was gathered together and, as most Italians do, cooked a meal; pasta, pizza, bread, meat and desserts were passed around between tears and laments and even laughter for our beloved Nonna.
The hospice doctors and nurses were invited and stayed with the family not because they had to but because they wanted to; there was a special bond between those who had been strangers just a few days prior to our Nonna’s death and my family, now so intimately related to each other.
I hope that if anyone is faced with illness and end of life issues, they will not hesitate to contact hospice. For more information about hospice care you can go to: